BOSTON ( TheStreet) -- A comprehensive benefits package can turn a good job into a great one, but with a changing health care landscape and complex retirement picture, how do you know what your benefits bundle should look like? Although any job with a steady paycheck may look temping, experts say you should do plenty of research before you sign on the dotted line, because not all benefits are created equal. Check out our rundown on the top five you should look for at your next job and why they matter. 1. Health care "There is a lot of confusion around health care benefits because of the new laws," says Uva Coles, vice president, student services for Peirce College in Philadelphia. "People are confused about what it means for them and unsure what their health care package should look like." While there's no doubt the health care market is changing, it continues to be the biggest benefit to employees -- from both an overall wellness and a cost savings perspective, says Mary Jo Davis, vice president of benefits at Ceridian, a human capital management company. "With health care reform and the 'coming soon' of health care marketplaces, the way employees will access and purchase insurance is going to be quite different," Davis says. "But even so, most employees will continue to access health care through their employer." In the coming years, small and large employers will have different options for health care than they do today, Davis explains, but companies know that the better the benefits offered, the happier the employee. There is a strong correlation between overall satisfaction of benefits packages and employee loyalty, she says. The majority of employees who say they are "very satisfied" with their benefits -- 61% -- also have a strong sense of loyalty to their employer, according to a Metlife ( MET) employee benefits trend study last year. 2. Retirement "When Social Security was conceived, life expectancy after 65 was only an additional five years, but today people are living well into their 90s," Davis says. "People know that investments are important for what their life looks like in the 10, 15 or 30 years after retirement."
Because more people are questioning the "real ability" to fund Social Security in coming years, investments in savings vehicles such as IRAs and 401(k)s are more important than ever, Davis says. Companies that offer a 401(k) match are setting themselves apart from the herd. "Although perks like free food, flexible dress codes and pet-friendly offices are great, when seeking a new employee or creating a new business, it is essential that businesses -- whether small or large -- offer a comprehensive 401(k) and competitive retirement and pension plans," says Jennifer Friedman, chief marketing officer of small-business legal solutions at CT Corp. 3. Wellness programs Still relatively new, wellness programs might be more commonly known as employee assistance programs, or EAPs. These programs can help employees with everything from smoking cessation and substance abuse to stress management and weight loss. "They help employees stay engaged and stay productive, and help them with all of the things going on in their life -- even building a budget," Davis says. Most EAPs are available for the employee as well as the employee's immediate family -- meaning spouse and children and sometimes parents and brothers and sisters. For some employers, wellness programs extend to all forms of health care -- even exercise. "Some companies offer a comprehensive wellness package that provides for reimbursement to gyms or exercise classes," Coles says. "This is especially common at companies that may not have the best health insurance. They try to balance it out by offering a little bit where they can, and sometimes that's of incredible value to employees." 4. Stability and flexibility "Stability, while certainly not sexy, eventually becomes really important," Davis says. "If you get into a situation where you have to take time off due to some kind of illness, or an illness in your family, you need to know you have quality disability insurance and that your employer has a program to protect you."
According to a recent survey by Mom Corps, a national talent acquisition and career development firm, 73% of working adults agree flexibility is one of the most important factors they consider when looking for a job or deciding what company to work for, says Allison O'Kelly, founder/CEO of the company. "The pros of flexibility as a benefit are multifaceted. Not only are employees better able to work when they are most productive, depending on what kind of flexible options are implemented, flexibility also offers the potential to save money and energy on a commute and gives employees more leverage to lead a less frenzied life." 5. Ancillary benefits: Tuition reimbursement, additional vacation days Job-seekers shouldn't lose sight of everything a company has to offer by focusing on a single benefit offering, says Harry Gottlieb, CEO of Jellyvision, the creator of Alex, a benefits education software. While a generous health benefit or retirement savings plan can seem awfully attractive, if it's not part of an overall package you can live with, you might find it's not enough to make you happy in the long term, Gottlieb says. "You're not just a worker who has health care needs. You're not just an employee who wants to retire someday. You're a whole person, and you'll want to find an organization that meets as many of your needs as possible." Today, people are looking more creatively at their job offers to make certain they're getting everything that's important to them, Coles says. "I always insist that you negotiate, see if there is room. We encourage people to consider negotiating for added vacation days, and creating a list of things that matter to them. Come to the table prepared to negotiate, to throw the questions out." Tuition reimbursement packages are another benefit that demonstrates an "investment in each employee's growth, future and success," Friedman says. "Not only do these benefits exhibit an organization's authentic interest in the well-being of its employees, they also prove most valuable to the corporation, as well as the employee, in the long-term."